Friday, May 27, 2011

Thinking About Thinking About Stuff

One of the things that is most repellent about the Republican Party in their role as the political wing of the American Political Right is a widespread and repeated tendency to adopt extreme and radical tactics in order to advance their agenda, even if the country would benefit if they did otherwise, and then decry those same extreme tactics when used against them.  Or, of course, the process also works in reverse - a paroxysm of outrage over a tactic that they will immediately adopt when the opportunity presents itself (google 'demon pass' for an example).

Now, somewhere at the most structural level of my political worldview is one very simple organizing principle, a foundational belief stated in the negative in recognition of its profound clarity: I do not want to be like them.  Ever.  In any way.  Full stop.

Now, a few years ago, when the worst American President of all time, George W. Bush was nominating a foul collection of hacks, apparatchiks, party functionaries and wild-eyed true believers to key positions in government, foreign service and the judiciary, I believed, and often stated, that the Democrats in the Senate were doing their jobs, indeed, serving their nation and their constituency, but slowing and often blocking these Presidential appointments.  And when they refused to allow the Senate to adjourn in order to prevent Bush from using the Recess Appointments mechanism to put these people in these often powerful and consequential positions, I cheered.  I smiled and watched them send a local Senator in every morning to gavel the Senate into session, even though there was no one else there, and I felt a frisson of schaudenfreude when I thought about how frustrated Bush and Cheney must be by this mere parliamentary tactic.

So one could not be surprised, not really, when the Republicans objected to the call for adjournment this afternoon.  They believe, and not without some fairly valid reasons, that the Obama White House might take advantage of the spring recess to appoint Elizabeth Warren to head the CFPB.  The Senate will stay in pro forma session and, as it will not be in recess, there can be no recess appointments.

So here's the thing.  I LIKE Elizabeth Warren.  I think she's the ideal head of the CFPB, and I think an effective, functional agency like the CFPB is both good for consumers and good for the economy.  Much of the worst excesses of the housing bubble would have been subject to oversight by a consumer watchdog agency, and as such, most of the worst of the sub prime mortgages might not have been written at all.  No one can say for sure, but that is the intent of the Dodd Frank legislation that created the agency in the first place.

So my first instinct is to be annoyed by this action, as it clearly steps on the prerogatives of a duly elected executive branch.  And hey, it's not like the Republicans in Congress have been playing it at all straight when it comes to their "Advise and Consent" constitutional role.  They should NOT be allowed to get away with it!

But no.  If I didn't feel like that when the Democrats did it just a couple years ago, to feel that way now would be disingenuous in the extreme.  The media likes to use the term 'partisan' as a pejorative, something to be avoided whenever possible, something toxic to discourse and disruptive of political solutions to pressing problems.  But that isn't right.  Partisanship is inherent in a multi-party political system - there HAS to be some philosophical or ideological differences between the parties or these would only be one.  Partisanship is the political equivalent of the adversarial system in justice.  It causes groups of people with different political agendas to find a way to work together to make sure that problems are solved and the constituencies are provided for.  But it would certainly be a toxic form of partisanship if I supported a tactic when one side exercised it and was outraged when the other side did precisely the same thing.  That would be acting a Republican.

So gavel away, Mr. Minority Leader, even while Ms. Warren must wait for another time.  And when she is elevated to the CFPB leadership by recess appointment some time in the future, I'll remember the genuine offense I took to the appointment of John Bolton to the United Nations post and I'll try to work up some authentic outrage.  Because I don't want to be like them...


  1. yeah. That's the problem with liberals. A cussed fair-mindedness.

    As you point out, not a concern for the opposite numbers. However, I am on your side. Better not to win, if we have to win by being as loathesome as the Right.

  2. As you say Mikey, a mere parliamentary tactic. If the rule is there it would be remiss not to use it. And if it kept the rest of the nuthatches out of office it is a good thing.
    Gotta lotta time for E. Warren, as well.

  3. I'd agree with you that the tactic itself is hard to reproach, given that both sides have used it over the years. But the tactic as currently used by Republicans is part of a broader strategy that has left positions unfilled to an extent heretofore unseen. This is not merely about blocking several controversial nominees, it is a concerted attempt to stymie vital reform. Focusing on the specific method of obstruction ignores the severity of the overall problem.

    But then you can hardly blame the Republicans; why would they quit when they keep getting what they want? They started pushing early on, and have yet to encounter serious resistance on this front from the administration. Obama and those around him are either dreadfully incompetent or simply complicit.